10 Top-Paying Skills Your Students Need in 2017

We’re living in an age where college degrees are the norm.

This year an estimated 1,882,000 college students are going to graduate with bachelor’s degrees. Every single one of them is hoping to land a great job that will pay the bills, but what exactly are future employers looking for in a graduate? The answer is actually quite simple . . .

More than Just a Degree

While it’s true that the average college graduate makes $15,000 more per year than non-graduates, the research and the experts are both saying that the value of college degrees has peaked. What does that mean for new job seekers?

Well for one thing it means that having a diploma doesn’t guarantee a great job. Employers aren’t looking for people who can graduate and memorize and regurgitate other people’s thoughts. They’re looking for people who will contribute something useful to a company. Plenty of job candidates have fancy degrees, but according to a report from PayScale, more than half of managers agree that recent graduates are not ready to enter the workforce and perform well in a new job. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’re a professor of higher education, the power is yours to turn this unfortunate trend around. No matter what discipline you teach, you’re the one who can arm students with the real-world skills they need to land that dream job. And right now the top-paying skills in today’s job market are tech skills and soft skills.

Tech Skills

There’s no doubt that tech credentials are a hot item in 2017. Even for students who aren’t in tech fields, having a few sought-after tech abilities in their tool kit and the agility to pick up new technologies quickly never hurts. According to market research from LinkedIn, here are some of the top-priced tech skills employers are hunting for in the 2017 job market:

1. Cloud and Distributed Computing Skills

This skill took the cake as the top choice on LinkedIn’s list. In a nutshell, this describes any job that manages a company’s cloud storage or remote server system on the cloud.

Most recent graduates have a pretty decent handle on how the cloud works, but to put that knowledge on a resume, they’ll need certifications to go with it. Google’s CloudAcademy courses, Microsoft Azure certifications, and Open Cloud Academy from Rackspace are all great options to learn about this.

2. Data Presentation

This is perhaps the newest skill on the list and involves organizing data into a visually pleasing format. Excel spreadsheets, presentations, and professionally designed reports are the most common data presentation tools in today’s workplace.

Even if your students aren’t designers, there’s no doubt that rudimentary knowledge of how to create charts, graphs, and slide decks is a hugely valuable skill in any field. Make sure your students are at least familiar with popular programs like PowerPoint and Excel.

3. User Interface (UI) Design

Improving customer experiences and interactions with brands is a huge deal in today’s market. So it’s not surprising that UI and UX made the LinkedIn list. Having a basic understanding of UI and the best practices involved is relevant in far more fields than you might think.

If your students are interested in learning more about UI and design in general, have them sign up for the Hack Design email list. It’s free weekly design training right in their inboxes.

4. Web and Mobile Development

Websites are a huge source of income for companies, which makes programming a highly prized skill for any graduate. Depending on the language, programming skills can boost an entry-level salary by 20% or more.

If any of your students are interested in learning to program or even just familiarizing themselves with HTML, Open Colleges has a Certificate in Programming. Students can also check out this article from the TED organization to find easy and free places to learn code.

5. Big Data Analysis

This hot-button skill tops lists of desirable abilities on both Forbes and LinkedIn. “Big data” refers to collections of information that are too big or too complicated for a computer to process. Numbers like these need humans to make sense of them, and identifying patterns allows companies to make important decisions that improve their service, target potential customers, and personalize their products.

Because interpreting data correctly can make or break a business, any kind of analytics experience is a huge draw on a resume. If your students want to learn more about big data, have them check out this list of big data certifications.

Soft Skills

Tech skills are certainly lucrative to have, but more and more business sources claim that soft skills are the biggest deciding factor for future job candidates.

According to Forbes, more than 100 top HR managers, recruiters, and CEOs in the country claim that if they had to choose between tech skills and soft skills, all of them would choose excellent soft skills in an entry-level job seeker. If you take a look at NACE’s Job Outlook 2016 survey, you’ll find that the top five skills employers want in new job candidates are all traditionally soft ones:

6. Leadership

This one took spot #1 on the list, which is an interesting choice all things considered. Here’s the thing: when employers say they’re looking for leaders, what they’re really asking for is self-motivated employees with initiative, follow-through, and personal accountability. Logan Whiteside from Google, one of the best workplaces in the entire country, perfectly sums up why he always hires leaders:

The idea is not whether you were president of the student body or vice president of the bank, rather: “When you see a problem do you step in, help solve it,” and then critically, “Are you willing to step out and let somebody else take over, and make room for somebody else? Are you willing to give up power?”

So make sure your students learn to be leaders. Talk to them about what real leadership is and give them a chance to take some initiative with their learning and their projects. Show them what it means to be accountable for their actions. Nothing makes a new hire stand out more than having the drive and potential to learn new skills.

7. Teamwork

Working well in a team sounds like an obvious requirement for a good employee, but fewer and fewer graduates know how to do this. Millennials are becoming more and more isolated as they continue using technology as their primary means of communication, which is why stellar interpersonal skills and the ability to collaborate has become so desirable.

How can your students learn to do this and demonstrate their skills to employers? It all starts with you. Create opportunities for your students to work in teams, and I’m not talking about the kind of group projects where only one person does all the work. Have your students delegate the work ahead of time and encourage each other to take their part of the project seriously.

This will reflect a real workplace environment where each colleague brings a different skill to a project and everyone gets graded by how well the final product turns out. Students need to learn now that their efforts in a workplace affect the entire team, and you as their professor can help them learn how to straighten out dysfunctional team dynamics when they happen.

8. Writing Skills

Sounding professional and competent in writing has never been more important—or harder to find—than in today’s job market. Data analyst Katie Bardano has observed that today’s generation is woefully underprepared in the written communication department. This is mostly because they’ve grown up with very short, casual communication as the norm.

The result is an entire generation of graduates that don’t know how to write or articulate themselves. But this is a skill graduates need no matter what field they’re going into. A job skills report by Burning Glass Technologies claims that writing is the second-most-requested skill for engineers and IT professionals too.

So make sure your students know how to write. Most STEM programs do require a general English course, but you can also give your students many different types of writing assignments. They need to be constantly practicing and improving their writing skills, and the best way for them to improve is by getting feedback from you or from the on-campus writing lab.

9. Verbal Communication Skills

Public speaking may not strike many graduates as something they’ll need, but speaking well in front of strangers or even an audience of executives will set any job candidate apart. Explaining yourself persuasively and presenting ideas are also critically important in the workplace, so make sure your students are armed with excellent verbal communication skills.

Since this is one of the hardest skills to develop, particularly if a student is afraid of public speaking, there are some key things you can do as a teacher to help them get better. The first is giving them many opportunities to practice presenting. The second is to provide meaningful and specific feedback on their performance.

Research has shown that practice and positive feedback both reduce anxiety in student presenters, and so does recording them on video to increase their self-awareness. You can take advantage of all three of these techniques by using an affordable video critique tool to take your students’ communication skills to the next level.

10. Problem Solving

Of course companies want new hires who can solve problems. Not a day goes by in the workplace that doesn’t involve solving a problem, but an overwhelming majority of graduates don’t know how to solve problems on their own.

They’ve never put out fires without someone telling them exactly what to do, nor do they have the creativity to formulate solutions and present them to a boss. This may be an obvious skill, but if your students can learn how to do this now, they’re going to have a huge edge on the competition.

Talk with your students about common problems they will encounter in the workplace—in their responsibilities and with their colleagues. Have them brainstorm ways they can be a solver instead of a bystander. If your students can demonstrate this skill on their resume and in interviews, their future in the hiring market will be bright.

How Many Top-paying Skills Are You Teaching Right Now?

Are you turning your students into recruiter magnets or did this list give you some new ideas of how to prepare your graduates? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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